Vanilla Ice Project returns for new TV season

By David Fischer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

MIAMI — An unlikely home improvement show hosted by 1990s rapper Vanilla Ice is set to premiere its second season with the remodeling of another South Florida home.

During the 13-episode run of "The Vanilla Ice Project" on the DIY Network, the artist, whose real name is Rob Van Winkle, and his crew will take a dilapidated Palm Beach County mansion along the Intercostal Waterway and bring it into the 21st century with technology that isn't on the market yet.

Van Winkle's passion for real estate and renovation took hold in the early 1990s, after his hit "Ice Ice Baby" made him an international star with millions in the bank. He first bought a home on Miami Beach's exclusive Star Island. He subsequently bought homes in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles, New York's Greenwich Village and Snowbird, Utah, a skiing and snowboarding destination.

"I went on tour for three years and never saw any of those houses," Van Winkle said.

Fearing they may have been a waste of money, he decided to sell them — and a new career was born.

"I literally made millions of dollars on them," Van Winkle said. "I was like, you gotta be kidding me. It can't be that easy. Let's go buy some more."

After Van Winkle's early 1990s stardom faded, he became more heavily involved in real estate. While he acknowledges that the housing market is different than it was 15 years ago, Van Winkle said he's been able to make money over the years by educating himself, studying markets and taking advantage of short sales and foreclosures. The longtime Miami resident estimates that he's bought and sold more than a hundred homes, most of which were in Florida.

"The Vanilla Ice Project" came together after a producer remembered Van Winkle talking about his real estate experience during an interview for another show.

Matt Levine, with Departure Films, said he had done a special on Vanilla Ice for the Biography Channel several years ago. So when the production company was looking to duplicate the success of "Flip This House," a hit on the A&E Network, Levine said he remembered Van Winkle talking about his real estate experience. When Levine called, he learned that Van Winkle was in the process of buying a large, completely gutted foreclosure in Palm Beach.

"I flew down with a camera, and we shot a little demo of him (Van Winkle) showing off the place and talking about his experience in real estate and what he wanted to do with this house," Levine said. "It was really very impressive, and it became this little teaser reel. And DIY was immediately interested in it."

That house became the project for the first season, which aired in the fall 2010. The show became an instant hit for the DIY Network, and the home sold a short time later.

Levine acknowledged that the oddness of the show's premise — Vanilla Ice doing home improvement — was probably the original draw for most viewers. But they kept watching because of Van Winkle's charisma and expertise, Levine said.

"I think it was unexpected, his likeability and how much he knew," Levine said. "I think once it became clear that he really knew his stuff, people started to look at him in a different way. Instead of seeing him as a one-hit wonder or a blast from the past, people started to appreciate him much more than they expected."

Although Van Winkle has been rebuilding his celebrity over the past decade with appearances on reality shows like "The Surreal Life," Van Winkle and Levine are both quick to point out that "The Vanilla Ice Project" isn't really a reality show.

"'The Surreal Life' is reality TV: no plot, not informative, not anything, just a bunch of celebrities running around, seeing how crazy they can get."

Levine describes "The Vanilla Ice Project" as more of a home renovation show, where the expert just happens to be Vanilla Ice.

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